1. Jacob dwelled in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan.
2. These are the generations of Jacob. When Joseph was seventeen-years-old, he was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a helper(a) to the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, wives of his father; and Joseph brought a bad report(b) about them to their father.
3. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons for he was the son of his old age. He made(a) for him a long-sleeved garment(b). 4. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers(a), they hated him and they could not speak(b) to him peacefully.
5. Joseph dreamed a dream and he told it to his brothers and (a)they hated him even more(a). 6. He said to them, “Listen, please, to this dream that I dreamed: 7. Behold, we were binding sheaves in the midst of the field; and behold, my sheaf arose and also it stood; and behold, your sheaves went around and they bowed down to my sheaf.” 8. His brothers said to him: “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to rule over us?”(a) And they hated him even more because of his dream and his words.
9. He dreamed again another dream and he told(a) it to his brothers, “Behold, I dreamed another dream; and behold, the sun, the moon and eleven stars were bowing down before me.” 10. (a)He told to his father and his brothers(a) and his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What is this dream that you dreamed? Will I, your mother and your brothers really bow down to you to the ground?” 11. His brothers were envious(a) of him, but his father guarded Joseph’s words in his mind.
- 2.a. נער can mean “adolescent/young” or “servant/helper.” The Septuagint (LXX) translates נער as νέος.
- 2.b. See the same use of דבה in Num 14:36, 37.
- 3.a. Samaritan Pentateuch (SP) reads ויעשׂ, perhaps it should be read וַיַּעֲשֶׂה (Qal Imperfect + Waw Consecutive).
- 3.b. Both LXX (χιτὼν ποικίλος) and Vulgate (tunica polymita) translate as “multicoloured garment.” See Commentary for discussion.
- 4.a. SP reads בָּנָיו, and LXX reads υἱῶν αὐτοῦ.
- 4.b. LXX reads λαλεῖν αὐτῷ, which could reflect a variant reading in Masoretic Text (MT) לְדַבֵּר לוֹ.
- 5.a. The expression ויוספו עוד שנא אתו is not represented in LXX.
- 8.a. The construction Qal Infinitive Absolute + Qal Imperfect places emphasis on משׁל.
- 9.a. LXX adds τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ καί, which could reflect a possible variant in MT לְאָבִיו וּ.
- 10.a. The expression ויספר אל־אביו ואל־אחיו is not represented in LXX.
- 11.a. קנא (Piel) followed by בְּ means “to be envious of”.
Context and Structure
Chapter 37 (beginning in 37:2) introduces the last major division of Genesis (chaps. 37–50) which narrates the history of Jacob’s family. This unit is essential in the broad context of the Pentateuch since it explains why the seventy people of Israel came down to Egypt.
Gen 37:1–11 involves Joseph, his father and his older brothers. It is commonly accepted that 37:1 is the conclusion of the Esau’s family history (תלדות עשׂו) in 36:1–43. Furthermore, 37:2–11 narrate the origins of the conflict in Jacob’s family.
Thus, 37:1–11 can be outlined as follows:
- The conclusion of Esau’s תלדות;
- The causes of the conflict in Jacob’s family (2–4);
- Joseph’s dreams and reactions to them in Jacob’s family (5–11).
4.1. The conclusion of Esau’s תלדות
37:1 “Jacob dwelled in the land.” Jacob officially became the head of all his clan in Canaan succeeding his father, Isaac. The contrast between Esau and Jacob is clear. While Esau had settled in Seir with his family (cf. 36:8,43), Jacob dwelled in Canaan in the same way as his father, Isaac.
4.2. The causes of the conflict in Jacob’s family (2–4)
These verses introduce the history of Joseph in the major framework of Jacob’s תלדות, beginning with the circumstances of Jacob’s family, and Joseph’s relationship with his brothers.
37:2 “These are the generations of Jacob” This verse follows the traditional אלה תלדות formula of Genesis. However, the focus on Jacob’s family history shifts such that his sons’ history becomes the predominant focus. “He was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah … and Joseph brought a bad report regarding them to their father.” The relationship between Joseph and the children of his father’s concubine was turbulent. It is not clear what was the content or the intention of Joseph’s bad report about Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher. One possibility is that while Joseph was helping (shepherding) his brothers, he had a conflict with them. Nonetheless, Joseph’s behaviour reinforced the hate of his brothers against him.
37:3 “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons.” Favouritism had been a mark of Isaac’s family (cf. 27:1–10). Jacob himself expressed a preference for Rachael over Leah (cf. 25:28; 29:30). Jacob’s love for Joseph can be explained by two factors: 1) Joseph was the son of Rachel (cf. 29:18,30); and 2) Joseph “was the son of his old age.” Therefore, this verse expresses the primary cause for Israel sons’ hate of Joseph. “Long-sleeved garment (כתנת פסים).” Jacob has made his preference for Joseph explicit, granting him this gift. Scholars have considered the translation “multicoloured garment” reflecting the text of Vulg. and LXX. Another possible translation is “ornamented tunic” based on an adaptation of the Akkadian pišannu. However, it seems reasonable that פס has a semantic relation with its Aramaic cognate פסא (lit. “flat of hand or foot”) supporting the translation “long-sleeved garment.”
37:4 The ten older brothers could not even speak to Joseph in a peaceful manner (lit. speak to him for peace). Thus, reacting to Jacob’s attitude, the hate of Joseph’s brothers overflows into actions.
4.3. Joseph’s dreams and reactions to them in Jacob’s family (5–11)
Theses verses narrate the two dreams of Joseph and their disastrous consequences within his family. The account of Joseph’s dreams is the first pair of dreams in this תלדות section.
37:5 “They hated him even more.” Jacob’s parental favouritism is the primary cause of the brothers’ hatred of Joseph (see 37:5, 8). Their hate will lead them to sell him to the Ishmaelites (Midianites, see 37:27). Thus, שׂנא cannot be understood simply as a common feeling, but also as involving action.
37:6 “Listen, please, to this dream that I dreamed.” It is noteworthy that the verb יוספו (Hiphil Imperfect + Waw Consecutive) and the name of Joseph (יוסף) could be a deliberate wordplay. “They hated him even more.” Joseph’s dream intensified the hostility of his brothers against him (lit. they added to hate him still). This hate can be partially explained by the Near East understanding about dreams in which they are considered a “common means of divine communication and prediction.”
37:7 “Behold.” Joseph uses והנה for three times in v. 7 and twice in v. 9 to describe his dream highlighting every detail from his point of view to his brothers. It also expresses Joseph’s enthusiasm regarding his dreams. Although Joseph tried to capture his brothers’ attention, the effect was disastrous. “We were binding sheaves.” This dream reflects Jacob’s people way of life. They were shepherds (cf. 46:32), but the agriculture probably was of their livelihood (cf. 26:12).
37:8 The emphatic use of משׁל shows that Joseph’s brothers knew the meaning of the dreams. What further intensifies Joseph’s brothers’ hate is the fact that Joseph’s eventual reigning and ruling over them would break the standard pattern of power in ancient societies, i.e., the oldest governing the young. However, this pattern of power had already been broken with Isaac (cf. 25:23).
37:9 “He dreamed another dream.” The double accounts seem to indicate Yahweh’s hurry to accomplish these dreams (cf. 41:32). Moreover, Joseph’s second dream has more elements and involves more people: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars – symbolising respectively, Jacob, his mother, and his brothers. Assuming that the eleven stars count the existence of Benjamin, “the moon” symbolises Leah, once Rachael had died right after Benjamin was born (cf. 35:19).
37:10 “He told to his father and his brothers.” In v. 9, Joseph reports the dream only to his brothers, but in v. 10, he also speaks to his father, Jacob. The arrogant tone of Joseph’s account surprises even Jacob who questions him: “What is this dream that you had?” The use of גער is rare in narrative texts (cf. Ruth 2:16).
37:11 “His brothers were envious of him.” It is evident that Jacob’s preferential love for Joseph caused envy. Potentially, Joseph, who already monopolised Jacob’s love, would also have Yahweh’s favour. “But his father kept the word.” Jacob could have understood the revelatory meaning of the dreams. Jacob rebuked Joseph, but he “kept the word” (שׁמר את־הדבר), i.e., he guarded Joseph’s words in his mind (διατηρέω, LXX).
The story of the family of Jacob starts with a family conflict. Two reasons explain the clash. Firstly, the patriarch’s predilection for Joseph (3–4) incited tension between his sons: Jacob deliberately and explicitly loved one son more than others. Secondly, Joseph’s pedantic dreams (5–11) sounded arrogant to his family, once, taking the dreams as a revelatory message of Yahweh, it would eventually turn upside down the power order inside Jacob’s clan.
The section ends with two different reactions to Joseph’s dreams. While Jacob seems to recognise Yahweh’s will expressed in Joseph’s dreams, the older ten brothers were about to turn their jealousness into violent action. The eventual possibility of the leading role of Joseph was the trigger for the further tragic events involving Joseph and all his brothers in Egypt.
 See HALOT (F. Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Oxford: Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1907), s.v. נַעַר.
 Cf. C. Westermann, Genesis 37~50 (London: SPCK, 1987), 37.
 G. D. Practico and M. V. Van Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), §21.6.1, 253,254.
 See HALOT, s.v. קנא.
 For the source criticism analysis in Gen 37:1–11, see Gunkel, Genesis (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1997), 380–395.
 F. Delitzsch, A New Commentary on Genesis (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1888), 254; E. A. Speiser, Genesis (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964), 292.
 G. v. Rad, Genesis, a Commentary (London: SCM Press, 1972), 347.
 Cf. 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1.
 J. Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, ICC (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1930), 444.
 Speiser, Genesis, 290.
 See BDB, s.v. פַּס; and HALOT, s.v. פַּס (Hebrew and Aramaic). Cf. 2 Sam 13:18,19.
 See the pair of dreams of the butler and the baker (Gen 40:9–19) and the Pharaoh (Gen 41:14–36).
 Westermann, Genesis 37~50, 37.
 Wenham, Genesis 16–50, 352.
 B. K. Waltke and C. J. Fredricks, Genesis: a Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 501.
 Gunkel, Genesis, 391.
 Westermann, Genesis 37~50, 38.
 Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis, 501.
 See Textual/Philological Note 9.a.
 According to Wenham, גער “refers often to God’s reaction to the nations, the wicked, or the seas.” (See G. J. Wenham, Genesis 16–50, WBC 2 [Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1994], 352). Cf. Isa 17:13; Nah 1:14; Zech 3:2; Ps 9:6 (MT).